CASE STUDY: CULTIVATING A LEARNING CULTURE WITHIN A TEAM
A highly respected, 700-employee economics consulting firm hired Hailey Group to take communication to the next level within their marketing team, which had undergone a dramatic transformation over the prior 18 months with many personnel changes and a new director. Its 20 members, some long with the firm, others in their first month, came together for a two-day professional development program to:
- Build relationships across, up and down the team.
- Gain tools to sustain effective communication, learning and growth.
- Thoughtfully analyze and set priorities within four key thematic areas of their work for the coming year.
Hailey Group designed a half-day workshop initiating the Marketing Team’s two-day program to establish a culture of openness, supply a common language of inquiry and evidence-seeking, and immerse everyone in a psychologically safe yet rigorous, focused environment.
Discussing art—and eventually, one of their own proposals—using Hailey Group’s methodology allowed participants to understand, actively practice, and reflect on the following crucial aspects of a high-performing team:
- Psychological safety
- A shared language of inquiry and evidence-seeking
- Comfort with ambiguity
- Bias awareness and the value of multiple perspectives, and
- Refraining from premature judgment.
After dipping into participants’ own experiences as well as research-based views of what constitutes engagement and growth at work, the team dove into a Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) discussion led by Dabney Hailey about Thomas Eakins’s painting, The Gross Clinic. All team members participated in this rich, complex, extended discussion, then reflected on how and why its structure embodies key elements of effective teams.
The group then divided into breakouts, each with an expert coach, and took turns applying the methodology’s key techniques and participation to more art. After every coached discussion, they reflected on how to apply the tools immediately during their remaining 2-day program as well as in their day-to-day work.
The full team reassembled and shifted gears, using what they had learned to dig into a key set of materials from their own work. This discussion raised important questions and next-step actions for one of their four key themes. The team moved into the remaining 1.5 days of the program feeling empowered, safe, and enabled by a set of concrete, rigorous, and relevant tools.
Upon completion of the program, participants were asked to evaluate their experience.
93% agreed or strongly agreed the Hailey Group workshop was valuable or very valuable, calling the methodology “a demonstrably useful means of facilitating open, evidence-based discussion.” Participants noted that the “skills learned could be applied to so many interactions within the group” and to cultivate a powerful learning culture: “I found that my mind/thoughts were constantly evolving as I listened to others.”
100% were able to describe at least one specific way they would apply the tools to ongoing work. Their ideas ranged from direct application of VTS to specific projects, such as using it to “reflect on new materials while we are iterating designs” or integrating VTS into “the generation of proposals for clients.” Broader applications also were noted: “Using VTS to review and rethink our processes may help us revise them to be more efficient and responsive.” Still others were taken by the method’s usefulness for fundamental, everyday communication: “I was really gratified with how relevant this approach is to active listening, framing, and particularly, learning to paraphrase,” skills key to high-performing team communication.
Across the board, individuals gained self-awareness about how they are experienced by others and how to improve: “I can work to step back from dominating discussion to listen and respect others’ thoughts.” One manager noted, “This workshop was a safe way to work on communication and collaboration. I found the respectful listening, engagement, and further investigation to be powerful tools to use in bringing our group together.” Participants understood the value of “withholding judgment/opinions in group meetings when multiple people are stating their views” and also realized the techniques will help “prompt co-workers to provide evidence when making statements,” demonstrating how VTS impacts the give-and-take of teams.
93% of participants would recommend this workshop to others and agreed or strongly agreed that more training would be beneficial.